The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Let’s go and play with the NIGHT DRAGON!
In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!
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My total pageviews for this site last month was lower than several of the proceeding months, which is to be expected, but has still left me thinking that I’m not keeping my readers as happy as I should. I keep telling myself ‘be more funny’. As a result, today’s playthrough will end each paragraph with the words ‘pie in the face’.
So, Night Dragon. This is the 52nd book of the original Fighting Fantasy series, and you can tell that because it loads up several pointless little scores that it wants you to keep track of, like honour, nemesis (how aware of you the enemies are) and time. I don’t think the book’s actually going to need all three of these, they just strike me as extra busywork. Anyway, I roll up stats and am told that a dark elf has asked to meet me in the city of Blacksand (which as any Fighting Fantasy reader will remember, is like Ankh-Morpork but without the friendliness). He then tells me that there’s an ancient dragon who’s going to wake up and eat the planet or something, and a bunch of the other less-evil dragons are having a meeting to decide how to stop it. He asks me to go and save the world from this ancient, evil Night Dragon before it slays us all with a pie in the face.
So before I can say to the dark elf “Wouldn’t it be more useful for you to go and make a king aware of this so that he can raise an army or something”, I’m off on a quest to save the world again. I wouldn’t worry too much. If ‘World of Warcraft: Cataclysm’ has taught me anything, it’s that evil world-eating dragons can be easily handled by a time-travelling orc and a group of ten random strangers. The dark elf has given me enough gold to catch a nearby ship off to the north, so before long I’m sailing away off to the chilly north. Almost immediately, we are attacked by a large eel-type creature called a Greel, who kicks my ass with a pie in the face.
No, really, it kicks my ass. This beastie is ridiculously strong for so early in the game. After we’re able to overcome it, it isn’t too long before I see a body frozen in the ice out in the sea. I sail out to check and find that it has a serpent tattoo on its hand. The book tells me that this is important, maybe it will be, maybe not. Returning to the ship, I’m given a bowl of hot stewed Greel and we dock in a nearby town. I head to the local tavern, where I’m to meet one of the dark elf’s friends. But when I get there, I find that the elf in question has been murdered and a bunch of dark robed assassins are waiting to stab me with a pie in the face.
I’m… going to stop doing that pie in the face thing now. It’s stupid. And I’m confused. Did a giant rampaging ancient dragon from before the dawn of time hire some assassins? Anyway, the body has a plaque on him with the word ‘Endimion’, so I flee the room and head out into the town, aiming to find out what this name could mean.
Two days later, and I’ve not been able to find anyone called Endimion. But I am able to see a robed figure darting into the back of a shop. Given that I can’t resist following robed figures, I sneak on in and listen as he chats with a few of his friends, discussing a ship that’s due to dock soon. Heading down to the docks, I find that it’s a ship, and not a person, called Endimion. It’s a rather tentative connection, I know, but it’s good enough.
This wildly tentative series of detective hooks does pay off, because we’re able to find another dark elf who’s arrived with the ship, and… the split second I meet him, he’s assassinated by a robed goon. The elf babbles about Frost Giants and tells me to go to a pass far in the north-west. And here’s where I start to hate the book.
I try to leave the town, but the book tells me that I need a pass in order to leave. Rather than just asking me if I have the pass, it instead tells me that I need to know the NAME of the pass, and that I need to convert the name of the pass to numbers in order to move to the next paragraph. I don’t know the name of the pass, so the book sends me back to the tavern.
And I mean ‘back’ as in ‘back in time’, because I wind up entering the tavern to find that the dark elf I was to meet has just been murdered by the assassins – again. Urrgh. Yeah, the book’s sent me off into one of those horrible loops where the paragraphs point to each other, round and round and round. I kill the assassins and escape the tavern, I track the Endimion to the docks, I get told to go to the north-west to play with the Frost Giants, I’m asked for the name of the pass, I’m sent back to the tavern, where I fight the assassins again… I think you can see where we’re going with this.
So there you go, I’m stuck in a time warp. Death by throwing the book across the room in annoyance, I’m afraid. Seriously, it could all have been resolved by just pointing the reader to the paragraph after you leave the tavern murder scene, but NOPE. To be honest, I feel sorry for the poor dark elf contact, being doomed to be murdered by robed assassins over and over and over again, for all of time.
That’s another thing about books at this point in the series, the editors just didn’t give a rat’s arse…. Now I do admit, I could rather simply keep playing over and over and over until I stumble across the name for this pass that I’m supposed to find. But at this point, why should I? If the book itself doesn’t care, then why should I?
Nevertheless, I do care. So, I decide to just cheat. Seems that I did indeed entirely miss the pass, and I quickly read through the rest of the adventure without it. The challenge on this really seems to ramp up a lot.
By the end of the adventure, you’re fighting the titular night dragon who is by far one of the toughest monsters I’ve ever seen in a Fighting Fantasy book (with the possible exception of Legend of Zagor). Even though you do start the game with a rather slight skills boost, it’d still be a massively challenging fight. And then, to top it all off, the dragon’s head does weird things… Which, let’s face it, all dragon’s heads should do weird things.
Aside from the rather massive editing gaff that seems to have caught me, this is a damn challenging book which feels suitably epic. I really would have liked to have seen it fixed up a bit before being released, because then it would have been a real gem. It’s nowhere near as broken as Revenge of the Vampire, and from what I understand it’s entirely possible to play through the entire book without falling into the same editing hole that I did. But still, it happened to me.
Guess you could say I ended this book with pie in the face. A-ha, ha ha… sorry….
Cause of death: Doing the time warp, always…